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Tag Archives: pruning

How to prune a fruit tree

In the video below, Dan Neuteboom provides an overview of pruning theory and practice. Apologies for the not optimal sound quality, there was quite a breeze blowing in Suffolk, mid January 2013.

On pruning

Pruning a young tree

Pruning a young tree. Photo courtesy of London Permaculture/

There are numerous publications about pruning. All very interesting and very helpful. However my view is that we should tackle the subject of pruning in a different way. First and foremost we need to be able to distinguish clearly between the difference in appearance of a fruit bud and a wood bud. These buds all look different again, if we look for example at shoots and buds either from apple, pear, plum and cherry, or from peach, apricot, nectarine or almond. I believe if we first and foremost learn to differentiate the state of the buds on any type of fruiting tree, then pruning becomes a lot easier and more satisfying. Because the aim of pruning is not the same anywhere and any time. We can set a target, before we lift the secateur, what it is we want to achieve by pruning the tree confronting us. And there are no two people alike, nor are there anywhere two trees alike. It is the individual that is different. The same applies to trees. The only difference is that the tree is silent and passive and we are noisy and active. Therefore even more reason to think twice before you cut/prune.

The second point of importance regarding the way we prune is very much determined by the fact how the tree has been raised; is it budded, grafted or on its own roots? If it is on its own roots it is likely to be very vigorous. The purpose of grafting or budding the trees on rootstocks, is to bring the tree into production more quickly, and often at the same time finish up with a smaller tree, which is easier from the point of view of picking and tree maintenance.

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Special measures needed to put your fruit trees back on the right track

A Cox tree close to harvest. There has been lots of vertical growth as a result of the relatively light crop

This growing season has been of a difficult nature for most fruit trees. It was cold and predominantly wet, particularly during blossom time in the early part of the season. It was too cold for the honey bees to come out of the hives or out of the hollows of old trees such as oaks and willows. As a result of that, many fruit trees had a light to very light crop due to the lack of pollination. As a result, most fruit trees have put on too much shoot growth, which made the tree canopy too dense. If your fruit trees are as described above, then my advice is as follows;

Taste your fruits and when they taste nice and are ready to eat, then pick them carefully and make use of them the best way possible. Follow this up by sharpening your pruning saw and secateurs and prune your trees NOW and not during the winter time. Open up the trees to make plenty of room for the light to get right into the middle of the trees. Light is the most important source of energy for trees. A well thinned-out tree canopy is the best way to produce a quality crop next season. Totally remove dead wood from underneath the canopy. Take out half a dozen crossing branches as thick as your wrist, to lighten the canopy. Seal all the larger wounds with “Heal and Seal” obtainable from your garden centre. Loosen your tree ties as these may be too tight now.

Cherry trees and plums need to be treated with Bordeaux mixture, after the pruning session, to reduce the effect of bacterial canker and/or silver leaf. Follow instructions on the packaging obtained at the garden centre.

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Summer pruning as part of the cordon training of fruit trees

1)  Trees can be contained in growth by using dwarfing rootstocks, if available. But this should be accompanied by the correct application of the summer pruning principles. Winter pruning must be omitted, except the cutting back of the leading shoot, when it has grown too long.
2) Plant the trees at a 45 degree angle. Fasten the trees to 6-foot long strong bamboo canes. These canes themselves are held in that position with the aid of three horizontal wires, which are strained between two strong end posts.
3) Maintain an adequate moisture level in the root zone of the trees during the growing season. Also make sure the union of the trees are approximately 1.5 inches above the soil level.
4) Avoid over cropping by carrying out fruit thinning by the middle of June. This applies after the trees have been 2 years in the ground.
5) The worst pest is aphids. Easy to control if done early. Once the leaves have curled up it is too late. Be on your guard over the next 3 to 4 weeks.
6) Watch out for any holes in the new leaves. Remove caterpillars as these spread out, and go on to damage more leaves
7) Because of the wet start of the season, early new growth of laterals and sub laterals may be strong. Pinch out the growing tip of these shoots by mid June. Don’t cut back the central leading shoot just yet. About the end of June is right for the central leader.

The cordon system

The cordon system